For the next decade at least 100 Republicans will be introduced at Lincoln Day dinners and 4th of July parades as "Former Presidential Candidate .....". Armies of them are sidling up to newbies Governor Terry Branstad of Iowa, Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina, hoping for an influential friend in an early caucus or primary state. Within the next several months the reality of recruiting top campaign staff and donors will start to thin the herd, but like in baseball, January is the season of unchallenged optimism. Some thoughts on who will survive when the grim reaper starts his work.
1. Republicans, favoring order, have usually had an established "candidate in waiting" who was owed their turn - Nixon, Bob Dole, The Gipper, George H.W., John McCain. The closest this cycle are Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney. More on them later.
2. The election of 2010 was a rout, with the victors being the focused advocates of fiscal responsibility and small government. While new factors may rise in national importance, this will remain Barack Obama's greatest weakness and the greatest attraction for the middle class. Financial management credibility is the sine qua non. Nice guy, social issue folks like Mike Huckabee are at a disadvantage. Governors with business experience need apply.
3. Obama's flaccid foreign policy could become a factor by the fall of 2012, but he is positioned to keep it off of the table: war without end in Afghanistan; Bush policies on Gitmo; accommodation with Russia; maybe approval of Bush's free trade agreements; a back-bench position in South America and the crumbling Middle East. One dark horse - the relationship with China could deteriorate to the point where the country saw a need for some expertise and strength. Enter Jon Huntsman, son of a billionaire, former governor of Utah and current ambassador to Beijing.
4. Any successful candidate must be acceptable to both the Establishment wing and the energized Populist wing of the party. Not a favorite of, just acceptable. Palin probably misses the Establishment.
5. Diversity would be a plus, but there won't be any at the head of the ticket. In his day Colin Powell would have had a good chance and Condi Rice might have as well. Candidates like Herman Cain do not have the resume and Marco Rubio does not have the whiskers. While there are many young women future potentials, the divisive Michele Bachmann is perhaps the best known. Republicans will not elevate an inexperienced junior legislator - even if he/she did have the most conservative voting record in the House or Senate. (The opposition did make that mistake not too long ago.) Look to another VP or 2016.
6. Some people are out because they would not be able to survive the liberal mainstream media onslaught: Haley Barbour; perhaps Rick Perry. With a chance to win why re-fight the Civil War. Likewise one would imagine the NY Times fulminations if the GOP decided to forgive and forget the opportunity that Newt Gingerich blew nearly two decades ago - smart he is, but so are others.
7. As for picking somebody who could carry a big, important state - California; New York; Ohio; Illinois; Florida; Texas - forget it. The Red State/Blue State division is really about regions.
The nomination is Mitt Romney's to lose, assuming that Round Two of health care finds an accommodation by the end of the year, soothing his biggest negative. Premise: Obama probably wants a compromise which keeps expanded coverage and avoids the inevitable Supreme Court decision on mandatory individual purchase; the Republican House led by Paul Ryan (do watch this video) is smart enought to find it. If Romney and Huntsman split the always-influential Mormon vote, Plan B is a Hoosier, Congressman Mike Pence or Governor Mitch Daniels. Plan C? Draft Chris Cristie. You heard it here.
Update 1/22/11: Readers have noted the absence of Tim Pawlenty, Rick Santorum, and John Thune from the above discussion. All have a following and a story line about why they deserve a shot. To me, the test is who can beat Obama if the economy continues to mend. That answer requires financial vision which I do not see in these three. IMHO.
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